One thing is for sure – when it comes to parenting, it does help to know the thought processes going on in other parents’ minds. You get different perspectives on the hot issues. It saves you from falling into the trap of continuing to have outlandish or stereotyped views regarding anything under the ‘parenting’ umbrella. It makes you pause and ask yourself, “Am I being a Hitler with my children? Am I being a permissive parent?” When you are aware of how majority of the parents are raising their children, you aren’t bringing up your child in vacuum and so I do a periodic checking of my parenting style by being in touch with mothers around.
The recent discussion on how technology affects children, initiated and conducted by ParentEdge, did just that – it brought parents together to air their views and their own experiences relating to the topic, which all opened my eyes to the issue completely. “So there are many parents out there grappling with the issue of managing its presence at home, just like me”, I thought. I felt enriched after the session where opinions were expressed about how technology is a boon and a bane today and suggestions were exchanged on controlling its daily presence in our life as effectively as is possible.
Now I can see clearly how technology, a permanent member of our nuclear families, has a relationship with us, our children and even activities in our lives. We are all well aware of its positive side that include exposing the children to a global world through different TV programs, helping the kids glean information for school projects through “googling”, staying in touch with grandparents oceans away through Skype, learning Science and Mathematics through Internet-based programs, chilling out through ESPN sports, getting a glimpse of the wonders and hitherto unseen far-flung parts of the world through breath-taking views and thrilling narration, having history of the world brought alive through well-thought-of programs, even seemingly difficult zones of astronomy and science and technology catered in student-friendly servings to interested learners.
But a rose comes with thorns and just as technology sweeps us off our feet with its grandeur and a constant newness, it can be threateningly invasive and destructive too at certain times. So how do we carry the rose around without the thorns hurting us? I thought of what days were like when technology hadn’t yet devoured up the hours of a day the way it does today. There were simple things we got to do that gave us satisfaction just as they added value to our lives, that let us enjoy family life and numerous other gifts which have got struck off our daily calendar years back before we even realized it. What if we brought those simple pleasures back into our life to keep a balance?
What we could have done only if the television had conked out……
Technology does keep us away from some lovely experiences. Visit the zoo and even if the sights and sounds and smells of some of the residents there during the initial encounters might repel your child who has been primarily receiving her quota of animal kingdom knowledge through the Animal Planet channel, it will definitely expose her to the real world of the furred and the feathered in ways the screen couldn’t ever do. A zoo visit can never be as frequent as switching to Animal Planet, but it shouldn’t be replaced completely by TV and even books either. How many times did a “swimming hour” or an “outdoor hour” get usurped by that cunning “technology hour”? Maybe we could keep the bat and the ball, the racquet and the shuttlecock, the football and the cycle, the swimsuits all well within sight and ring in the week-end with one or more of these. You suddenly find yourself with a long week-end staring in your face. You may knock the library to stock your desk with the latest blockbusters to enjoy with your family and the new home theatre system you purchased, or you may all go for a sudden nature trip. Which choice would gift you with an opportunity to ‘talk’ with your child? How would you get to know your child better – through his reactions to certain scenes and conversations on the screen with the eyes and ears and brain and mind riveted there OR through conversations amongst your child and you all as your family walk bring you face to face with new discoveries in nature?
In which of these are you less involved with the external environment so that you automatically get more involved with your child? A trek would be even more rewarding, when affordable money-wise and time-wise, because it is there that you truly taste and celebrate family time with the ‘dead’ cell phone and other modes of technology not playing spoilsport. You know the television is sitting there in the hotel room. But wait for a second – which one would give you the joy you don’t get to experience often – a tête-à-tête with the tall trees and the chirping birds as you and your child, hand in hand, twist and turn with the grassy pathways OR sedentary hours of TV in the hotel room? You could gift your child with the thrills of growing your own tomatoes and coriander in your own kitchen garden. You could even come up with paper boats (rainy season or not) to float them in buckets or try your hand at simple science experiments at home. So the first lessons of Environmental Science and General Science could come from the parent, all by keeping technology “mute” for a few hours. You never know, maybe your child could be cherishing those hours decades later!
What we must do and must not, but are we thinking about it?
Did you ever think that the TV can steal an hour of precious bonding time every single day of the week, the time the working parents could get across to their child and say, “Hello, we’re here. So let’s all open up and talk about our day.”? Technology can keep the window of the child’s mind closed for long without anybody realizing how silently but steadily it’s destroying the channel of communication between a parent and a child that could have been strengthened, instead, with an hour of book-reading time in the case of a young child or that precious hour of talk time when all the hurts of school could come tumbling out. Maybe you won’t have a ready solution there or the healing ointment, but your attentive ears would ‘say’ silently that you are there for him to bare his heart to and for his wounds to begin to heal.
Did it ever occur to you how that the visiting grasshopper on the balcony pot went unnoticed because of that hour of video games? And that mini-telescope you had bought for your child to explore the night sky with him is gathering dust because video games again stole away your child’s time? Let’s face it, it’s not only the children falling prey to the ubiquitous presence of technology, for I also see grandparents glued to the TV as the grandchild blissfully plays around watching programs with them and meant for them just as I hear mothers working from home letting the TV again baby-sit the child as she meets her deadlines. Believe me, it takes huge efforts and patience to get the children off this dangerously addictive habit of watching TV for hours together, once it has gained roots in them.
You could laze with a book during the week-end, inspiring your child to vanish into a Noddy or a Kipling, without actually spelling it out, but this too only if technology again did not swallow those lazy hours very quickly! And here is a confession from my ten-year-old son! “Mom, it was when the screen of our old TV went permanently black that I really got interested in books,” he said candidly a day after he had been part of the audience for the ParentEdge session on how technology impacts children. Only if we fully knew the worrisome after-effects of spending more than optimum time with technology or on the wrong things there, we would be really cautious about what and how much the children are getting exposed to.
Just as us being role models in using technology at right time in the right degree would help them hugely, getting them occupied with constructive activities and showing them oft-published research results of how too many e-bytes a day can affect a child’s thinking and focus and productivity, would help too. If we mastered the art of drinking the honey without the poison, we could definitely show the way to generation Z too. I hope friends from my neighbourhood would always outnumber my Facebook friends. I hope my children look forward to socializing despite having many friends in Dora and Pokemon and the videogames characters.
Also Read : How Technology Leaves its Mark on Children